Locally sourced foods find platform on state exchange

Boston Statehouse

Local produce, fish, equipment and other agriculture-related services are available on a new state-run MassGrown Exchange marketplace. (Screenshot)

BOSTON (SHNS) – Pints of cherry tomatoes grown in Beverly, hundreds of pounds of salmon and haddock from a Boston pier, jars of curries and chutneys prepared by a Newton retailer, and communications support for local farms and fisheries are among the kaleidoscope of options up for sale on a new state-run online marketplace.

The new MassGrown Exchange platform publicly launched Monday and offers a wide range of options to farmers, fishers, restaurants and anyone else linked to the Massachusetts food production industry, aiming to bring together and support both in-state producers and shoppers.

Officials touted the new website’s flexibility, describing it as an important resource during the COVID-19 pandemic to help generate business amid a massive economic downturn and a platform that will also carry long-term benefits.

“A key aspect of our work in this area is not just working through this challenge, but really building a system that, over the long-term, will have resilience to withstand whatever challenges we face in the future and to ensure one of the best resources that we have — the local abundance of food that we produce and grow and catch here in Massachusetts — helps us to really support our residents and support our economy,” Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said during a virtual event unveiling the platform.

On the MassGrown Exchange, Massachusetts food suppliers can advertise wholesale products they have for sale with a specific timeframe for how long the listing should last.

Early listings include 25 pounds of garlic for $350 from North Easton’s Copper Kettle Farm, plastic containers of milk from Millbury’s Elmhurst Dairy Farm, and cans of nitro cold-brewed coffee from Indigo Coffee Roasters in Northampton.

Buyers — which officials hope will include restaurants seeking local ingredients, supermarkets, food banks and schools — can comb through the options, with each post offering contact information for the provider.

The platform also allows businesses to post that they are seeking something specific and draw responses, such as a tough-to-find piece of equipment, and for anyone to offer paid or volunteer service for producers.

Rick LeBlanc, who coordinated the effort for the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, said during the Monday event that the department initially compiled an online spreadsheet for buyers and sellers as a way to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on business.

That was “definitely a short-term solution” prone to typos and listings falling out of date, LeBlanc said, so the department worked to launch a more formal option.

“In developing the platform, we had simple goals: we wanted to make this easy-to-use, user-friendly, and flexible for multiple types of users,” LeBlanc said. “It could be a restaurant, it could be a store buyer, it could be a farmer or a fishery, all these different audiences.”

LeBlanc said the COVID-19 crisis generated new interest in locally grown or caught foods. In April, he said, use of a separate MassGrown map aimed at individual consumers doubled, and visits to the website are up about 30 percent year to date compared to an average year.

The new web portal also stems in part from recommendations of a state food security task force, which Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner John Lebeaux said was an “engine” creating momentum.

Baker administration officials are still accepting applications for a $36 million food security grant program, and so far have only awarded $3 million to invest in technology and equipment that will help producers distribute to food-insecure communities.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who kicked off the Monday unveiling event, described it as a way to help consumers across the state “experience truly the best resources we have here in our commonwealth.”

“There are best practices and strategies that will live on forever, and that’s what I love about this exchange,” she said.

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